Marching to Vegas: On Mark Lyons, And What Makes A Point Guard

Posted by AMurawa on December 7th, 2012

From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.

We knew Mark Lyons was going to be watched under a microscope the moment it was made public he’d transfer. There have been just a handful of grad transfers and he’s amongst the highest profile school swappers of that nature. All of this you know. What we did not know is whether Lyons would fit in with his teammates; whether bringing in a player of his caliber and hubris would be cancerous or auspicious; whether Mark Lyons could be a point guard? Much had been made of the third Lyons conundrum this week as the argument was made that the senior was struggling. Following his performance in Lubbock, he found himself with an underwhelming 0.8 A/T ratio. Not good. But knowing this fact, not once did it dawn on me that Lyons might be struggling, despite subsequently reading three different articles (third was an ESPN insider) regarding his struggles. I disagreed and proposed why he wasn’t struggling. Turnovers are a concern but that alone does not a point guard ruin.

Mark Lyons, Arizona

Mark Lyons’ Game Has Been Under Attack This Week, But While He May Not Be A Traditional Point Guard, He Helps His Team Win (Luke Adams)

Then this week’s Burning Question was proposed: Who is the best point guard in the Pac-12? So I sat down to begin my research, punched my password into KenPom and pulled up the Pac-12 cumulative stats; and then I realized I had no idea what I was looking for. Assist to turnover ratios? Assist rates? Turnover rates? Points scored or the lack thereof? It began grinding at me that I had no idea how to quantify a point guard. After all, we live in the era of Nate Silver so everything must be quantified. But as I burrowed further and further down the rabbit hole of advanced stats, looking into each of the conference’s point guards, I could find no continuity to the statistics. Dinwiddie led in ORtg and eFG%; Larry Drew II in assist rate; Ahmad Starks in turnover rate; Dominic Artis in steal percentage. Conversely, Dinwiddie and Starks don’t rack up many assists, Drew barely scores, and Artis does a little of a lot. And I hadn’t even begun to look at Justin Cobbs, Chasson Randle, Jahii Carson, Jio Fontan, or Lyons. Just on name recognition, I’m taking one of that second crew (I’d eventually pick Randle just because I really like his game). Alas, the BQ and my early week reading-and-rebutting had me stewing on Lyons and what makes a point guard. His oh-for-the-game, 4/2/2 and three turnover performance against Southern Miss on Tuesday then did nothing to help his cause. Or did it? Lyons played 29 minutes in that game and all of the critical ones. Statistically speaking, Mark Lyons struggled. But he continued to play, Sean Miller opting to keep the senior on the floor. It was in this tiny but all-important fact that I think I found my answer.

Facilitator and all those other words we love to toss around about the position, the point guard is a role. He’s entrusted with the ball not necessarily because he’s a good passer, dribbler, or scorer, but because, for better or worse, he’s dictating. This is a game that begins with a ball and he who has it in his hands is in control. Defenses are engineered to reacquire this precious commodity; offenses protect it and get it to auspicious positions to be put into the hoop. The key point there being offenses and defenses. Basketball is a team sport and the team has to be collectively better than its given parts. For example, if a game projects to have 130 possessions, the team that is most effective in the most possessions should win. Or at least has the best opportunity to win. Take care of the basketball (maximize scoring opportunities) and score when you have the ball (adjusted efficiency roughly defined as points per 100 possessions). Winning basketball can be accounted by many factors and this is a loose description. But I believe it’s fair to say that not giving the ball to the other team and scoring when you have the ball is a decent recipe. And ultimately these advanced stats are created to measure a player’s value. By that definition, Mark Lyons holds a higher value than many other kids. And to me, added value is ultimately the true measure of a player whether you want to call him point guard, combo guard, or Philip. Value turns into wins. Wins turn into legacies.

And what I keep coming back to is a line from a Greg Hansen article (the Arizona Daily Star columnist). In his post-USM column, Hansen goes into the historical relevance of Lyons’ performance and expands that into his teammates’ reaction. Nick Johnson – who had six TOs as the team’s leader in assists amidst cries of making him the point – had this to say about Lyons, “When he’s on the floor, everybody listens. He knows. He’s a senior. He knows he’s going to have games like that. He did a good job on his man defensively. He’s doing the little things to help us win.” Key take aways: on the floor, win, listen. To me, that’s the point guard, or at least what I want to hear out of everyone else on my team when talking about the ball dictator. And when Hansen goes on to call Lyons this team’s “lightning rod,” I was sold. Because this is a team with a lot of parts that perhaps are sensitive to scrutiny. From a group of freshmen bigs to the versatile senior leader, Solomon Hill, the lightning sharp expectations of a season’s success could strike any of these shoulders. But Lyons – the most scrutinized of them all – will absorb those hits. He struggles? He’ll wear it. Someone else struggles? All eyes wind up on Lyons. Against USM, Solomon Hill coughed it up four times himself en route to a pedestrian 9/4/4. But all eyes were where? Mark Lyons: the ball dictator, the season dictator, the lightning rod.

So no, I can’t quantify what it means to necessarily be a point guard. Because even if we get to the most basic nomenclature of facilitator – the guy who makes it happen – it all boils down to whether or not he wins. And that guy, the one dictating a team’s success whether it’s defensively or getting the ball to a primary scorer’s hand or bucketing it himself, that’s my point guard. The one that fills the left column.

AMurawa (825 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.


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